A discussion on thyroid disease and good health isn’t complete without stressing the importance of physical activity. Lisa Lilienfield, MD, a thyroid disease specialist at the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Virginia, and a certified yoga instructor, is a firm believer in the importance of exercise, particularly for clients with a thyroid disorder. “With hypothyroid patients, certainly exercise can help with weight gain, fatigue, and depression. With hyperthyroidism, anxiety and sleep disturbances are so common, and exercise can help regulate both.”
The most common thyroid condition is hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. In the United States, hypothyroidism usually is caused by an autoimmune response known as Hashimoto’s disease or autoimmune thyroiditis. As with all autoimmune diseases, the body mistakenly identifies its own tissues as an invader and attacks them until the organ is destroyed. This chronic attack eventually prevents the thyroid from releasing adequate levels of the hormones T3 and T4, which are necessary to keep the body functioning properly. The lack of these hormones can slow down metabolism and cause weight gain, fatigue, dry skin and hair, and difficulty concentrating (see table).2 Hashimoto’s affects approximately 5% of the US population, is seven times more prevalent in women than men, and generally occurs during middle age.3
Less common causes of hypothyroidism include congenital (birth) defects (one of the reasons for newborn screening is to check for failure of the pituitary gland to produce enough thyroid stimulating hormone, usually due to a benign pituitary tumor), and pregnancy. Some women can develop hypothyroidism during or immediately following pregnancy, often as a result of developing antibodies against their own thyroid tissue. This is dangerous for both the developing fetus and mother, and can lead to miscarriage, developmental abnormalities, premature delivery and an increased risk of preeclampsia – a potentially dangerous complication in the later stages of pregnancy.
A neck lump or nodule is the most common symptom of thyroid cancer. You may feel a lump, notice one side of your neck appears to be different, or your doctor may find it during a routine examination. If the tumor is large, it may cause neck or facial pain, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, cough unrelated to a cold, hoarseness or voice change.
Much of the iodine in the average American diet comes from dairy products, according to a 2008 study by researchers from the Food and Drug Administration. But our consumption of dairy has been on the decline for decades: During the years between 1970 and 2012, there's been a 60-gallon drop, largely because we're drinking milk less often, say the researchers.
It is doubtful that nutritional deficiencies are the sole cause of an underactive thyroid, but not having enough of these micronutrients and minerals can aggravate symptoms of low thyroid function. Increasing the intake of; vitamin D, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, zinc, copper, vitamin A, the B vitamins, and iodine can help in natural hypothyroid treatment.
Think twice before reheating your plastic bowl of takeout soup or keeping that frozen dinner in its original container when you microwave it. Put it on a plate or in a bowl made from ceramics like bone china, stoneware, porcelain or glazed earthenware. Your thyroid is part of your endocrine system, and you can disrupt it by heating food in plastic. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says endocrine disruptors are in many everyday plastic products, including bottles, food, and containers with BPA. Endocrine disruptors work by mimicking naturally occurring hormones in the body, like thyroid hormones.
First things first, you must consider food to be your medicine and get off all processed junk food, sugar (which sends you on a hormonal rollercoaster ride) and gluten. The Daily Living Eating Plan is a great place to start. In addition, l-glutamine is a key amino acid that reduces cravings for high-glycemic carbohydrates and helps kick the sugar habit. If you have already done that and are looking to go deeper, here are some tips to heal the thyroid:
Finding a competent natural healthcare professional who can restore your health back to normal is not always an easy task. There simply are not a lot of natural healthcare professionals who focus on endocrine conditions, such as hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I usually advise people to contact some of the naturopathic doctors and chiropractors in their area, along with medical doctors who practice functional medicine, as if they contact enough of them there is a good chance they will find one who focuses on endocrine conditions. If they’re unable to find such a doctor this way then many people can be helped by consulting with someone remotely over the phone or through Skype, although it’s a good idea to first get examined by an endocrinologist or a different type of medical doctor before taking this approach. I personally conduct remote consultations and have helped a lot of people this way, and there are other healthcare professionals out there who also work with their patients remotely, but I realize that some people prefer to speak with someone face-to-face.
You can order thyroid tests yourself. Most people do not know that. You can do so by going to Direct Labs. They cover more than just TSH and T4 – you will get the full spectrum of results which you need to know to manage your thyroid and Hashimoto’s. Finding out this information about yourself will help you better understand how the thyroid diet can help you.
Remember that there is no magic answer, single supplement, or sole dietary change that will miraculously cause you to lose weight. Likewise, medication alone may not be enough to help you feel your best with thyroid disease, whether you have weight to lose or not. Ensuring optimal thyroid function and focusing on diet, movement, and nutritional and lifestyle changes can all help you achieve greater success.
Traditional Chinese Medicine: Although not well studied in addressing hypothyroidism, TCM can have positive effects on imbalances in the immune system, and is useful in treating other autoimmune conditions. It may be helpful early in the course of Hashimoto’s, but TCM should not be used in place of conventional therapy when thyroid replacement is indicated.
Most physicians diagnose hypothyroidism by simple blood tests that measure the level of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which is made by the pituitary gland in response to thyroid hormone and the body’s needs, and indicates thyroid status. As levels of thyroid hormones fall, the pituitary releases TSH to stimulate the thyroid to produce more hormone. Clinicians may also measure circulating levels of T-3 and T-4, which are the thyroid hormones themselves. Low levels of T-4 and high levels of TSH reveal an underactive thyroid. Other variants of hypothyroidism can exist. Patients can have no symptoms and normal serum thyroid hormone levels, but elevated TSH. Others can have symptoms, but normal TSH and T-4 levels. Patients with either of these variants may benefit from supplementation. In addition, someone with a temporary illness might have a completely normal thyroid but high TSH, a condition called “sick euthyroid” which usually resolves without any intervention.
Megan Casper, RDN, a dietitian based in New York City and the founder of Nourished Bite, points out that iodine deficiency is the leading cause of hypothyroidism worldwide. This mineral can’t be made by the body, so dietary sources like iodized salt, dairy products, seafood, seaweed, and fortified cereals are important. “Iodine is an essential nutrient in the body, and thyroid hormones are composed of iodine,” explains Rizzo. “Those lacking thyroid hormones may also be lacking iodine.”
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Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.
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